Class, Race, Death

Posted: September 4, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

As many of you probably already know, a young lady named Jasmine Lynn was killed a couple days ago on Clark Atlanta’s campus. She was a Spelman Sophomore, all of 19 years old. Her twitter page is still up. There’s a picture of her doing what 19 year olds do, posing in front of a Ferrari at a gas station. She looks happy, a little awkward like people in those years do. But she looks like what she was: A young lady going to college, trying to make it in life.

And now, that life is over. I expressed my frustration with this kind of thing on Twitter yesterday. I attributed this kind of random and reckless violence to the underclass. Of course, my page blew up immediately with people arguing that I was being insulting and disrespectful. The DM’s however, were much more of a mixed bag. The fact is, as black people who are not generally likely to shoot someone, we have truly mixed feelings about how to deal with these issues when they come up, which they inevitably do.

Deborah Ann Brown was gunned down about 9:30 p.m. in the 2900 block of 14th Street NW, not far from the Dunkin’ Donuts where she worked.

The shooting happened just after the annual Columbia Heights Day wrapped up. According to sources, a group of males was sitting on the steps in front of the Greater Washington Urban League when a suspect on a bike rolled up and opened fire on the group, just as Brown was walking past.

Read Article here

Last year, I worked for the summer as a Program Manager for DC’s Green Summer program, a pilot cross-functional program between the District Department of the Environment and the Summer Youth Employment Program. I managed 12 team leaders and maybe a hundred odd kids. They were good kids. A little rowdy, some misguided, but for the most part, like everyone else, they just wanted to live. We used to go out in to sites in the community to do cleanups or work, and invariably, if we were going to certain neighborhoods, some of the kids couldn’t come. It just wasn’t safe for them, because they had some beef or another. It’s hard to fathom living life that way. These were smart kids, with every bit of the potential as anyone else. But because of where they came from or who they knew, they were at legitimate risk of being hurt or killed.

Toward the end of the summer, one of my team leaders, Keith Hines, was shot and killed as he sat on his mother’s porch. Keith was a good guy. He’d had some issues before and done some time, but he was enrolled at UDC, he was working, and he was doing what people do: just trying to live. I doubt they’ve found the shooter.

Read article here

A few months ago, there was a bit of a hubbub because a Morehouse Student who shot another Morehouse student three times was graduating from the college. Not kicked out, not in jail, just graduating and moving on with life. The shooting victim, not so much.

Read article here

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why I rail against the underclass.

When I say underclass, I’m not talking about the working class. I’m not talking about people, who because they’re not doctors or lawyers, or weren’t invited to Jack and Jill should be shunned and derided. I’l tell you where I come from. My grandfather on my dad’s side: Bus Driver. My grandmother on my mom’s side: a Domestic. I have 40-odd first cousins, and I’m the only male to go to college. So trust me, I don’t have a problem with the working class. Pretty much my entire family is working class. They work with their hands, or they’re int he service or they work in the penitentiary system. But they work. And they raise their kids. And they progress.

What I’m talking about is a mentality that has been sold to us, and we’ve bought hook, line, and sinker, that we as black people, and especially black men, should be a certain way. And that way is violent, ignorant, and uncouth. I don’t know Joshua Brandon, but from the narrative that came from a couple sources, he drank the kool-aid. Despite the fact that he lived in a 400k townome and drove a Hummer, he at his core wanted to be a member of the underclass. He wanted the cool points and swagger of having a gun and taking no shit from anyone. And because I assume his folks had some clout, he was able to get away with shooting a classmate without so much as a ripple in his life.

Just like, in all reality, the guy who killed Keith, and the guy who killed Jasmine and the guy who killed Deborah Brown will. No one’s gonna testify. No one seent shit. No one’s willing to step up and say “no mas.” Because the underclass doesn’t snitch.

What BET and New Jack City and Menace II Society and everything else in the world have shown us is that it’s awesome to be a gangster. It’s accepted, respectable, and much preferable to being a “bitch nigga.” Regardless of the fact that shooting randomly while running away is bitch nigga shit. Or rolling up on a bike and opening fire is bitch nigga shit. Walking up someone’s porch while he’s unarmed and shooting him in the face is some bitch nigga shit too. Hopping out of a Hummer and pulling out your gun on someone unarmed, bitch nigga shit too. But in the narrative of the underclass, these are all acceptable and respected actions.

And that’s why I can’t accept the underclass mentality as something to be respected or pitied, or not be derided. I can’t get into the whole excuses thing. “Oh, they had it hard” or “You don’t know what was going on in their life.” I used to live in africa, people. You think you’ve seen hard here? Get the fuck outta here. I’ve seen hard. And no, not everyone over there is holding hands and singing kumbuyah. There are some terrible things that goes on in any impoverished condition, anywhere.

But here in America, it’s trickling up. People are CHOOSING to be this, not forced into it by circumstances beyond their control. And we HAVE to stop accepting it. We have to stop letting kids in PG county underperform the entire state of Maryland because even though their folks have money, they want to be” hard.” Cats at Morehouse having guns. Plies pretending he’s a goon even though he went to Miami University in Ohio. We have to stop accepting that those little ignorant children who hang out in Chinatown will steal the Jordans off some kid and push old ladies down in the street. Because if we don’t get it under control, there will be more Jasmine’s.

I don’t live in the neighborhood that most of these people live in. I don’t want to. One of my mom’s clients was killed not long ago at Sursum Corda. If you’re not familiar with Sursum Corda, it’s basically a death trap. It’s the Carter personified. It will be torn down. It will be gentrified. And the people that live there, the crime, and the poverty, and the dysfunction will be pushed out somewhere it can be ignored.

But that’s the thing, you’re not changing the dynamic, you’re just moving it away from where you are. And a lot of black people who are the working class or the lower middle class don’t have the option to just gentrify out the underclass that lives around and among them. They can’t cancel out that risk that their kid is going to get killed by a stray bullet or seduced into being the shooter. They’re stuck with it. And as long as those values persevere, that it’s OK to shoot people, that it’s not OK to demand legal justice for shooting someone, we’re fucked. So you may disagree with me about my nomenclature, or saying I’m being elitist. That’s fine. But I absolutely, thoroughly, and completely reject the underclass values that made Jasmine Lynn’s death possible. If you’re one of those people that are apologizing for or making excuses for that behavior, I reject you too.

Do I have a solution? On a macro scale, no. There are things each of us can do individually; volunteer, mentor a child, etc., but at the end of the day, until the mentality gets right, nothing changes. The mentality has to be killed. Not the Jasmine Lynns.

  1. true2me says:

    This is a good posting. Just cause you are forced to live in those conditions does not mean you have to adapt to that mentality. Just cause you live in SE doesn’t mean you are a gangsta and need to put up with the ‘underclass’ (or no class as I like to say) mentality. We can live in those neighborhoods w/o the violence and nonsense IF WE REFUSE TO PUT UP WITH IT.


  2. LadyA says:

    This is a very real post. Not much else to add to that, save for the fact that I completely agree.

  3. Just cause you are forced to live in those conditions does not mean you have to adapt to that mentality.

    I disagree with this. People succumb to their environment…period. If it’s a violent, horrible environment…more likely than not you will be a violent horrible person.

    It’s really not hard to screw a child up.

    HOWEVER…I know plenty of PG county and other wealthy, upper middle and middle class kids who act like their O-Dog from Menace ii Society.

    Get to college and act like they grew up in Marcy or Washington Heights (the Marcy where I’m from), toting guns and selling drugs. I know a cat right now sitting in jail waiting for his trial on armed bank robbery to start. He was getting a Masters in Engineering.


    Nathan McCall author of “Make Me Wanna Holler) said (when I saw him speak): Once upon a time you learned to be a thug by living by watching the thugs on the corner.

    Now you learn to be a thug by listening to music, watching TV and movies. They’ve taken the hood and exported it to the suburbs and to the masses.

    Unfortunately our young men especially have taken these images and bought into them hook line and sinker. I don’t get what the parents are doing or not doing to mitigate this. But I grew up on welfare and “black” to me was never NWA but Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglas and Zora Neal Hurston, etc.

    Somehow though corporate America (the entertainment industrial complex) manged to do what 300 years of slavery and Jim Crow did not: instill in us that we are “violent, ignorant, and uncouth.”

    This mis-education has been going on for so long now, I don’t know how to change it. Yes there are things that can be done on individual levels, but until the environment changes and parents, mentors, whoever do a better job of letting youth know what “black” is and is not it is a problem that will continue to persist and more young lives will be lost.

    On a side note: a freshman at Florida A&M were was shot and killed when a “bitch nigga” opened fire at a block party she was attending.

    Too many young lives…

  4. brran1 says:

    I honestly don’t get it. I’ve grown up in both the working class neigborhood and smack dab in the middle of Upper Middle Class Suburbia, and I don’t understand why or how people choose to emulate the “behaviors” shown on BET or other spaces where we’re not shown in a positive light.

    Maybe if kids had more role models from jump vs. relying on the Digital Babysitter for them, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now…

  5. AssertiveWit says:

    At the end of the day, IT IS A CHOICE and whether other people want to acknowledge it, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ADAPT TO THIS MENTALITY. I tire of people using their environment as an excuse to participate in illegal/wrong behavior. Yes, as a small child, you may not know better but you LEARN right from wrong, eventually, and THEN when you choose the negative side of things, you have to accept the consequences that come with that decision.

    Although my parents did not raise me and my siblings to behave like goons, my brother CHOSE that lifestyle. Could it be blamed on the environment? I wouldn’t. Growing up in Eat Oakland (not the wealthy part either) my sister and I had the same opportunity to venture down my brothers path but we CHOSE not to. I guess he felt he had something to prove, hence the erratic life he has led since he was 13 and the discomfort he has forced upon others.

    Just like people can look around and not see anything good in their environment, they also watch television, movies, and listen to music that state otherwise. If a person can siphon out the negative messages sent by the media, surely they can see people who are CHOOSING to do something positive with their lives. Some people CHOOSE to ignore that and take what appears to be the easiest road to travel…what everyone else around them is doing.

    I do think a big part of it (in the beginning) is on the parent(s) but after a person is a certain age, they need to be held accountable for their actions. It’s sad that this young lady had to die at the hands of someone who was making some bad decisions with their own life.

  6. At the end of the day, IT IS A CHOICE and whether other people want to acknowledge it, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO ADAPT TO THIS MENTALITY. I tire of people using their environment as an excuse to participate in illegal/wrong behavior. Yes, as a small child, you may not know better but you LEARN right from wrong, eventually, and THEN when you choose the negative side of things, you have to accept the consequences that come with that decision.

    Choice is relative.

    People make a big deal about choice.

    If all you know is brutality you’re not going to wake up one morning and say “I’m going to be a nice guy.”

    If all the “successful” people on your block are goons…you’re likely going to be a goon. This isn’t rocket science.

    How do you learn right from wrong if you’re never taught right from wrong? That doesn’t even make sense. If “right” in your hood is rape, murder and mayhem,,then guess what…

    How you’re raised matters. Your environment matters. If it didn’t you wouldn’t have people putting themselves into massive debt to be in a “good” neighborhood with “good” schools.

    I wouldn’t move to Washington Heights and raise my daughter there cause I know no matter what I teach her inside the house the influences outside the house more than likely will ultimately reign supreme.

    We can chalking this up to “choice” if we want to…but until the ENVIRONMENT changes then none of this will change.

    You’re taught morals.

    You’re not born with them.

    • Tunde says:

      i believe you are making excuses for people who chose to lead a life that will bring nothing but pain and hurt to them and those that love them.

      “If all the “successful” people on your block are goons…you’re likely going to be a goon. This isn’t rocket science.”

      regardless of whether or not your environment has successful people or not it doesn’t give you a license to commit crimes and be a thug. it happens all around this country. people who made a decision (through noone but themselves) to make something out of their lives and not succumb to the traps of the hood. is it likely? no. but is it possible? very.

      i have brothers who grew up in the same household that i did and we all lead completely different lifestyles. we were raised the exact same way but i made a choice to go left while they made a conscious choice to go right. life is about choices.

      • Brown Sugar says:

        I’ll say it again: Choice is relative.

        I’m not making excuses.

        I’m not saying people shouldn’t be punished for their choices/behaviours.

        I’m saying we are the accumulation (is that right?) of our experiences.

        If it were so easy for people to make good “choices” then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

        If environment didn’t matter then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

        Keep patting yourself on the back for the choices you made…but for every you their are 20 others who were swallowed up by the environment they came from.

        That’s life.

  7. Bunny says:

    And here’s a shooting over the weekend that took place at FAMU after a football game…

    Here’s an excerpt

    Joyous celebration over the FAMU Rattler football victory ended as a shooter injured three people following the game late Saturday near Howard Hall on Wahnish Way.

    A text alert sent by the university early this morning said, “All clear/arrest made. An arrest has been made in the shooting incident on FAMU campus.” “Basically what we had was a dispute between two groups,” said Lt. Norman Rollins from the Florida A&M University Police Department.

    “One of the individuals took at a weapon, a firearm and commenced shooting at the other group which was in a car,” Rollins added.

    Both FAMU PD and the Tallahassee Police Department declined to comment on the make, model and color of the car, out of fear of “retaliation” when the suspects were still at-large.

    “Obviously we can’t disclose information as to the car,” Rollins said last night.

    Students were confined to their dorms, cars were cut off from Wahnish Way and police officers were not allowed to comment on the case.

    FAMU PD was able to confirm three victims in the shooting, although their names were not disclosed. Two of the victims were described as “innocent bystanders,” with minor injuries to the hand and one on the arm.

    Running back Lovontae Page was grazed in the arm on his way to his dorm an after the home game, said Martin Uphigh, a close friend. Page came off a strong 61-yard performance in which the first six plays were run by him.

  8. Kit says:

    I am on the fence about the inevitability of this lifestyle and these choices. I work in the criminal justice system and every week I encounter young men and women who quite frankly know better. They are in college, they have good jobs, but for some reason or another they have decided to make the choice to purchase a gun, commit a crime, or help friends commit crimes. And once caught, they want to pretend like it didn’t happen. There seems to be a mentality that we can act without consequence. I think that that is the mentality that has been passed to these young men and women. Maybe for most of their lives no matter what their social or economic circumstances, they have lived without consequence – either good or bad. Parents have gotten them out of trouble, teachers haven’t paid enough attention, and they have been allowed to exist with no personal responsibility. When they are inevitably involved in something that their parents can’t get them out of, they are at a complete loss as to how to deal. I think the mentality of “Life without consequence” is really what we need to struggle to overcome.

  9. 05girl says:

    This is all good food for thought. I do think, however, since you are referring to “underclass MENTALITY” you should always use that phrase instead of just calling out the “underclass.”

  10. true2me says:

    Even “relative” choices in the end are still PERSONAL CHOICES..In the end you are the SOLE BLAME for your actions…regardless of environment, are the person who has the FINAL SAY SO for what YOU DO…

    There is INFLUENCE which all of us have whether negative, positive or in between..but in the end..we all make choices that come from our thinking and influences that no one can FORCE us to do..

    If you are being tortured for top secret can CHOOSE to give the info…or you can choose to continue with the torture till u die… are never FORCED to give any information

    you can have sympathy for that person cause they were under certain “circumstances” that INFLUENCED their decisions..but they still had a CHOICE ( and there isn’t anything relative about it lol)

    Get it…

    You can be physically forced to do some things ( ie sit, stand, lay down, fall out)..but others (ie kill, steal, murder, rape, shoot)….you cannot..its actually pretty simple

    let me stop..Im done…

  11. Frenchie says:

    This article relays so many of the sentiments I’ve been trying to argue with people for years. Even on my college campus, the idea of “NO SNITCHING” is prevalent. Why are we so quick to protect the guilty party simply because popular culture tells us to do so?? It makes absolutely no sense. What about the innocent lives that have been affected?

    We need to get over this blanket mindset of “the man” trying to hold us down. It doesn’t apply to EVERY situation! I don’t know why violence is so popular and actually praised in the setting that you refer to as the “underclass”.

    I went to an HBCU and and now live in Baltimore. It saddens me how many young Black lives are lost every year, just because someone thinks it’s cool. And the wrongdoers could be brought to justice, but NO ONE wants to talk, because they feel they’re doing a disservice to their race someone just because the person with the gun looks like them.

    I’m not exactly sure how we can change this, take back our communities and save our young people (I’m still young too I guess)… I think we really need to start by EXPOSURE. Show youth who may live in disadvantaged areas how much more there is for them outside of the few blocks in which they live. Education, especially education away from home. So much maturity and knowledge is gained in those college years, most people emerge as different people who WANT to be beneficial to society and help bring other like them up as well.

    I could go on, but… all in all I’ll just end with saying this was a great read. Makes you think! 🙂

  12. Sojdanielle says:

    Very thoughtful post. I loved it. I disagree with the origins of violence. I don’t think that black people are socialized to believe so much as we are socialized to believe “appearing” violent is “cool.” But it takes more than a desire to appear a certain way to act on violence. Cornel West talks alot about nihilism. And part of nihilism is a loss of respect for yoru OWN life. When you don’t value your OWN life you cannot possibly value someone else’s. Look at crimes committed among the middle and upper middle class. Typically those offenders are later found to be mentally unstable, depressed, or otherwise distraught during the timeframe of the crime. Well, if you are living in poverty, the likelihood of you being depressed or distraught increases. You can be violent with yourself or violent with others. You are also hypersensitive to any form of disrespect (btw this notion of respect in the black community is one that needs to be explored more fully b/c too many crimes are committed b/c so and so “disrespected me.”) The answer is not to rail against the under class but to seek eduation and economic policies that would reduce the under class to only those who do not seek improvement which I believe would be almost no one. Reagan and Moynihan achieved their goal of dividing blacks by class and trying to assign a particular way of thinking to a particular class. Moynihan was roundly disproven, so was Reagan yet in the vain of Chris Rock, you still have black people who believe in black folks vs. niggas rather than empowered vs. unempowered. And when you point that out, the first thing people do is 1. Accuse you of being an apologist and 2. Point to the vast array of INEFFECTIVE programs designed to empower folks. But programs won’t fix this issue…the nation needs to change the way it treats its citizens no matter their class. We are cruel to our poor, cruel to our mentally ill, cruel to our children, cruel to their parents, cruel to our veterans. And yet we are suprised at the lack of civility that persists.

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